Parenting can be a lot like going to war. First, you do your recon, poring through baby books, observing your kids in their native habitats, swapping tactics with other parents. Having gathered your intel, you devise strategies that should be effective: No TV time until your daughter's room is clean. No food if your toddler won't wear his bib. No one even thinks about going outside without a helmet and a full suit of armor "borrowed" from a local Renaissance fair. Thus armed, you head into battle... only to discover that these three-foot masterminds have already outsmarted, outwitted and outmaneuvered you. Somehow, despite all your books and planning, the kids always seem to be, well, winning.
In my home, a quick look around points to the real victors in the daily parenting battles. Here are six signs that the kids have conquered the battlefield:
1. Mommy wants to leave the house, but no longer has any matching shoes. This is because my toddler has dragged each pair out of the closet and, after taste-testing them, has banished one shoe from each pair to the mysterious black hole in our apartment. All Mommy is left with is one pair of stiletto heels and some knee-high leather boots from my club-hopping days -- perfect for wearing to the grocery store.
2. My toddler has called Mommy's bluff at the dinner table. Whoever decided bibs should be fastened with Velcro was clearly a sadist. All Mommy's threats of "No bib, no service" are for naught when Toddler pulls off his bib 10 times a meal, leaving me with a conundrum: forsake my perfectly-cooked steak to deal with a bibless toddler determined to crawl across the table and grab my food if I won't feed him -- or enjoy my food while my kid covers his formerly clean shirt in mashed potatoes. Hey, Mommy's hungry too.
3. Our Netflix appears to offer only one show: My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Most of the time, I know more about Twilight Sparkle's day than my husband's. I've given up trying to sneak in the news or even a quick peek at the weather. Somewhere along the way, my daughter learned how to use the remote, and now she owns that thing. Not even Princess Celestia could wrestle it from her, despite my daughter's dedicated allegiance to the ruler of Ponyville.
4. The kids have become downright Machiavellian when it comes to bedtime. There's no manipulation too cunning, no trick too dirty, to help them get out of going to bed. The moment I settle my toddler into his crib, he points furiously to his diaper -- not because he's wet, but because it gives him five more minutes of wrestling with Mommy, as I attempt my best half nelson to get a diaper on him. My daughter, who is more experienced in the ways of strategy, has even more effective tactics, ranging from "I need a hug" to "I gotta go potty" to a scary dream about talking pie that requires five more bedtime stories before she can possibly settle down. Try as I might, resistance is futile when a 5-year-old in a Rapunzel nightgown jumps in my lap for another bedtime kiss.
5. Wall-to-wall carpeting has been replaced by wall-to-wall Barbies, crayons and Play-Doh. It's not that the kids don't clean up. We are constantly having them straighten up their rooms and put away their things. But, much like Sisyphus pushing that mythological boulder up the hill, cleaning up around here has become an unwinnable uphill battle. The reality is that no matter how much cleaning we all do, the apartment is a complete mess five minutes later. It's an astounding phenomenon that drives Mommy crazy -- and yet the kids don't seem to notice (or care) at all.
6. Our home looks like a paid advertisement for Frozen. From the Elsa cutlery on the tables to the stickers of Olaf and Anna all over the walls to the Frozen-themed dolls, dresses and tiaras strewn all over the living room couch, it's hard to remember what this place looked like before Disney advised us to "Let It Go." (Who knew they were talking about floor space?) Apparently, it's Elsa's world -- or apartment -- and we're all just living in it.
Yes, the kids are indeed winning their share of battles around here. But, ultimately, I like to think Mommy and Daddy are winning the war. Somehow, despite the potatoes and tiaras on the floor, the kids are growing into happy, independent little people ready to confidently and curiously explore their worlds. As parents, we can't expect to win every battle. Let's face it, a toddler's loving gaze -- letting you know, without a word, that you're the center of his world -- is all the artillery he really needs. But the real victory is seeing them grow into the kind of people we -- and they -- can be proud of. And on that front, as far as I'm concerned, it's mission accomplished around here.